Pacific District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church)
The Pacific District Conference was organized in Pratum, Oregon on 25 May 1896. The first meeting was planned and arranged by J. B. Baer, then Field Secretary of the General Conference. P. Steiner and J. Amstutz of Bluffton, Ohio, S. F. Sprunger of Berne, Indiana, J. J. Balzer of Mountain Lake, Minnesota and C. Kaufman of South Dakota greatly helped to make that first session a success. Three small churches, Irving and Pratum, Oregon, and Colfax, Washington, and a Sunday school of Dallas, Oregon, were represented at the first meeting; the Amish church of Eugene, Oregon, also participated. S. F. Sprunger was elected as chairman of that historic meeting and J. J. Balzer served as secretary. At that session "a Program Business Committee, consisting of three members, was elected to which all the work was assigned until the appointing of the first Resolutions Committee in 1904 and the election of a permanent Evangelization Committee in 1908. The President and Secretary were elected at the beginning of each session until the close of the third session. From this time on they were elected in advance for the ensuing year."
The second session was held at Eugene, OR in 1897. J. B. Baer was elected as president and David Goertz as secretary. At that session it was decided that congregational representation at Conference be granted on the basis of one vote for every ten members. This arrangement was still in effect in 1959.
In 1908 the Conference accepted a constitution (German language) which the Business Committee had been instructed to prepare. In 1937 it was revised and translated into English.
According to Article Three, "The purpose of this organization is to promote fellowship among the churches, to co-operate in the spreading and establishing of the Kingdom of God in our own district, and to give united support to the work done by the various boards of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America."
Article Four stated their principle as follows: "'For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ.' The Pacific Conference is not a law-making but an advisory body, and therefore does not consider itself authorized to dictate rules of government to the congregations. It is a union for joint work, and among other things seeks to find ways and means to assist the scattered settlements, by advice and actual help, in the edification and advancement of their congregations, and therefore makes only such regulations as are necessary to carry on this united work. In regard to matters of faith it requires of these congregations who would unite with it that they adhere to the doctrines generally accepted by the Mennonites. By these Mennonite doctrines we understand, baptism on confession of faith, the abstaining from oaths, a Biblical nonresistance, the practice of a Scriptural church discipline, and the inadvisability of membership in secret oath-bound societies, since we consider their principles as contrary to the teachings of Christ and the apostles."
In addition to the regular conference officers, the following standing committees were elected by the delegates: the Evangelization Committee, Education Committee, Peace Committee, and Business Committee.
The Conference was been interested in missionary work. In 1908 they encouraged the General Conference to open a mission in Los Angeles. In 1928 they started a work in Portland, OR, in 1949 a new project at Sweet Home, OR, and in 1954 they helped organize a work at Fresno, CA, and Filer, Idaho. The congregations also operated in lending assistance to some of the smaller struggling churches of the District.
The Pacific District was the smallest (in membership) of the six districts of the General Conference in the United States, but extended over the largest territory. It included the area between Canada and Mexico, and the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The great distances between church groups was a serious handicap in holding frequent fraternal gatherings of the various auxiliary organizations. It was therefore necessary for them to carry on various phases of the conference activity on a sectional basis. The young people's gatherings were of this nature. Each state conducted its own youth retreats. The California young people conducted an annual Sunday-school and Christian Endeavor convention. They elected their own officers and sponsored their own missionary project.
The Pacific District Conference, which was organized by three small congregations, by 1959 had grown into an organization of 23 churches with a total membership of nearly 3,500. Six of these were located in Oregon, six in Washington, eight in California, and three in Idaho. -- Harold D. Burkholder
The Pacific District Conference, with its 26 churches and 2,611 members in 1987, became increasingly urban and ethnically diverse. Eleven new churches planted between 1960 and 1987 became part of the district. All were in large urban areas in Arizona (4), California (4), Washington (2), and Oregon (1). Congregations included people of Hispanic, Chinese, Hopi Indian, Dutch, and Swiss ethnic backgrounds. Currently (1983-85) 62 percent of those baptized in the conference's congregations did not have parents who were Mennonites. In 1985, the conference set the goal of more than doubling the number of congregations within seven years.
Despite the new congregations, total membership was about 800 less than in 1959. Some older congregations declined, while three congregations left the conference in the 1980s because of the lack of sympathy with Anabaptist teachings. In response, the conference gave more emphasis to church planting and growth as well as more guidance in the calling of pastors.
Increased cooperation with the two Mennonite Church (MC) district conferences in the five-state area occurred. Joint annual conferences and a pastor-and-spouse retreat were held with both Pacific Coast and Southwest Conferences. Four new congregations were started in joint ventures with Southwest Conference. Discussion was underway to promote further cooperation and possible future integration.
In 1994 the northern half of the Pacific District Conference merged with the Pacific Coast Conference (Mennonite Church) to form the dual-conference Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference. At the same time the southern half of the Pacific District Conference merged with the Southwest Mennonite Conference (Mennonite Church) to form the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference. After the 1999 restructuring of Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada into Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest became part of Mennonite Church USA. -- James R. Wenger
Aeschlimann, P. R. "The Pacific District Conference." Mennonite Yearbook (1930): 23.
Aeschlimann, P. R. "History of the Pacific District Conference." Mennonite Yearbook (1932): 32.
Burkholder, H. D. The Story of Our Conference and Churches. N. Newton, 1951.
Esch, Henry. Editor. The Mennonites in Arizona. Phoenix: the author, 1985.
Handbook of Information, General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS (1988): 115-16, 142, 150.
Intagaliata, Stephen. "An Accurate Picture of the Pacific District Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Church: 1975-1985." Unpublished manuscript, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1986.
King, D. D. "The Pacific District Conference." Horsch, James E., ed. Mennonite Yearbook and Directory. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House (1925):40.
Lind, Hope Kauffman. Apart & together : Mennonites in Oregon and neighboring states, 1876-1976. Scottdale, PA; Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1990.
Pacific District Messenger, is published six times a year.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 103-104; vol. 5, p. 666. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Burkholder, Harold D. and James R. Wenger. "Pacific District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 18 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/P331.html.
APA style: Burkholder, Harold D. and James R. Wenger. (1987). Pacific District Conference (General Conference Mennonite Church). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/P331.html.